Marshall Cohen, CNN
(CNN) — Smartmatic, the voting technology company suing Fox News and former President Donald Trump’s top allies over their false claims that its machines rigged the 2020 election, was implicated in an alleged bribery scheme involving the former top election official in the Philippines, according to court filings obtained by CNN.
The court documents indicate that the Justice Department has filed money laundering charges against former Filipino election administrator Andres Bautista – and that four executives from Smartmatic subsidiaries are implicated as uncharged co-conspirators.
The bribery claims are sure to reverberate in Smartmatic’s ongoing defamation cases. Trump allies repeatedly peddled the lie that the company manipulated the results in 2020, despite the fact that its machines were only used in one California county that year.
Smartmatic spokeswoman Samira Saba said in a statement that the Florida-based company “has never won a project through any illegal means” and stressed that the claims in the Bautista case are “not related to Smartmatic election security or integrity.”
Smartmatic filed massive defamation suits against Fox News, Newsmax, OAN, several individual Fox hosts, ex-Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and others. They all deny wrongdoing.
Some of these pro-Trump figures have tried to push back against the defamation suits by highlighting Smartmatic’s ties to Venezuela and its involvement in foreign elections.
OAN recently asked a judge to let them seek records from the Philippines government and other countries as part of the discovery process, claiming they have files about “investigations… scandals.. and major problems” involving Smartmatic machines.
The Smartmatic co-conspirators in the Philippines-related criminal case aren’t identified by name in the court filing obtained by CNN, which says they allegedly “caused or attempted” to funnel $4 million to Bautista “in violation of US money laundering laws.”
According to the charging documents, the Smartmatic executives used “slush funds” and “fake contracts” to facilitate alleged bribes and masked their actions with phony email accounts. “Salsa” was their code word for “money,” the documents alleged.
Bautista awarded $199 million in contracts to Smartmatic for about 94,000 voting machines and to handle the results of the Philippines’ presidential election in 2016.
“I did not ask for nor receive any bribe money from Smartmatic or any other entity,” Bautista posted Thursday on X, formerly known as Twitter, adding that the elections he oversaw were “hailed” by observers as being the “best managed” in Filipino history.
He also said he would “respond to the alleged charges at the proper forum and time.” The criminal charges were filed Tuesday, according to the court filing. There is no indication that Bautista is currently in US custody.
Saba, the Smartmatic spokeswoman, said, “winning a bid in the Philippines is never solely one individual’s preference or decision” and that the company has “both won and lost bids in the Philippines” over the years.
The new allegations of corrupt foreign dealings could boost the defense for Fox News and the other Trump allies currently fighting Smartmatic in court. They could argue that it wasn’t their lies about the 2020 election that caused Smartmatic to lose business, but rather the company’s reputation was tarnished by the allegedly criminal behavior of some of its employees.
The criminal complaint against Bautista doesn’t accuse Smartmatic of tampering with election results in the Philippines or any other jurisdiction. A State Department report concluded that the 2016 elections in the Philippines “were generally free and fair.”
A spokesperson for the US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where the charges against Bautista were filed, did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
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